Wharton County may not have the same state senator next year if the current redistricting proposal holds through debates barely under way and looming court challenges.
The first proposed new Senate map, released by District 17 Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, pulls Wharton County out of District 18 represented by Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, and into Huffman’s district which would expand from portions of Harris, Fort Bend and Brazoria counties to encompass all of Wharton, Colorado, Jackson and Matagorda counties while capturing more of Fort Bend. It would also meander into portions of Harris and Waller counties and cover more of Brazoria County.
Huffman holds a law degree from South Texas College of Law and worked as a prosecutor before serving two terms as the 183rd Criminal District Court in Harris County. A Senator since 2008, Huffman currently serves as chair of the Senate Special Committee on Redistricting and Committee on Jurisprudence, vice-chair of the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice and as a senior member of the finance, administration and budget board committees.
The proposed Senate redistricting map, which addresses all 31 senate districts, already has Democrats crying foul over redistributions of voting populations in other areas along with concerns on general representation.
“These are terrifying times in Texas politics as the struggle over state control is quickly shifting away from the traditional battles between conservatives versus liberals,” Wharton County Judge Phillip Spenrath told the Leader-News. “Yes, there are still R’s and D’s ... but today’s quest for power is pitting big city desires against longstanding rural values.”
Pulling a portion of highly populated Harris County into the same proposed district as Wharton County is an example.
“Senator Kolkhorst has always been a staunch ally for farmers, ranchers and smaller family businesses. She is an advocate for preserving local water and property rights,” Spenrath said. “While I do not personally know some of our neighboring senators, the jagged boundaries drawn on the most recent map suggest the residents of Wharton, Jackson, Colorado and Matagorda counties should be deeply concerned.”
It’s just too early to tell the potential effects on El Campo and its residents, City Manager Courtney Sladek said.
“I’m not sure if this will adversely affect us or not. The first order of business is to build a relationship with our new Senator, much like our relationship with Kolkhorst,” she told the Leader-News. “We have established a collaborative relationship with Senator Kolkhorst. I’m optimistic that we may be able to develop the same rapport with Senator Huffman.”
Whether the lines stay exactly as drawn on the initial redistricting proposed map or shift, Kolkhorst’s district is changing. The question is how.
“The process of drawing new district maps has begun and I will be working with my fellow senators to make sure that rural Texas continues to have a strong voice. The 2020 US Census revealed that Senate District 18 now contains nearly 100,000 more Texans than the average senate district,” Kolkhorst told the Leader-News.
Kolkhorst, previously the House District 13 representative, became the District 18 senator in 2015 after Glenn Hegar vacated the post to become the state comptroller.
The current District 18 covers all of Wharton, Matagorda, Jackson, Victoria, Calhoun, Aransas, Refugio, Goliad, Dewitt, Gonzales, Lavaca, Colorado, Austin, Fayette, Lee, Burleson, Washington and Waller counties as well as a portion of Fort Bend and Harris counties.
“I am disappointed in losing any part of the current Senate District 18 because we have worked closely together since 2014. I am honored to represent Wharton County - wonderful, hard-working people who truly have a sense of community and care for one another. Residents of Wharton County are not just not numbers on a map for me; I consider them my friends and family,” she added.
Kolkhorst urged residents to participate in both House and Senate redistricting hearings as they are set.
A hearing will be held today on redistricting with more in the future. To submit written comments, the public can visit https://senate.texas.gov/cmte.php?c=625 to comment.
House and Senate approval will be required for all maps – doubtlessly only coming after a great deal of debate and amendment if historical patterns are followed. Gov. Greg Abbott would then need to sign the approved plan into law.